How our man in Argentina put boot into Ally's World Cup flops

THE battle plan was simple: win the World Cup. But the celebrations were, sadly, premature.

When 30,000 fans gathered at Hampden Stadium in May, 1978, it was to provide a rapturous send-off to the Scotland squad as they embarked for Argentina.

Leaving the stadium, Ally MacLeod, the manager, was asked: "What do you plan to do after Scotland win the World Cup?" He replied: "Retain it."

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The hubristic dreams of a nation were rewarded by ignominious defeat at the hands of Peru, a drug scandal and an early eviction that, according to historians, may have crippled the independence movement for a generation.

And yesterday, a new insight into the defeat of "Ally's Army" was provided by government papers released by the National Archives under the 30-year rule.

In a scathing dispatch, Hugh Carless, the British charg d'affaires in Buenos Aires at the time, denounced the Scotland team's lack of professionalism, suggesting they were "provincials" out of their depth in international competition. As the only British team to have qualified for the tournament, Scotland had flown out to Argentina on a wave of nationalistic fervour, boasting they would bring the cup back home.

They lost their first match to Peru and could only manage a draw against Iran. Even a memorable 3-2 victory over Holland, the eventual runners-up, was too little too late and they were on their way home without qualifying for the knock-out stage.

As Mr Carless later cabled the Foreign Office in London: "The Scottish team, which had an emotional send-off in Glasgow from thousands of cheering supporters, was greeted in silence on their return."

He continued: "In retrospect, it would seem that the poor Scottish performance was due to complacency and lack of professionalism on the part of all concerned with Scottish football. They seemed provincials out of their depth in international waters."

It was clear that the Scottish Football Association and the Scotland manager had lacked adequate planning. In an ill omen, one of the two buses that delivered the team to their hotel at Alta Gracia, near Cordoba, broke down. Meanwhile, the Hotel Sierras, which Ernie Walker, then secretary of the SFA, called "an Argentinean Gleneagles" had no carpeting in the players' rooms and no water in the swimming pool.

As a result, some players grew bored and later argued over the 20,000 bonus they were to receive upon lifting the World Cup. Umbro, the national sponsor, promised 120,000 if the team was triumphant, yet a group led by Archie Gemmill and Lou Macari wanted more.

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Tensions in the camp were reported daily by the Scottish press.

One of the stories concerned Alan Rough and Derek Johnstone, who had sneaked out, visited a nightclub and staggered back only to find themselves held up by guards at gunpoint.

Rough reportedly cried out: "Don't shoot me, I'm the goalkeeper."

As they prepared for the game against Peru, the players were despondent that the manager could tell them nothing about their competitors, as MacLeod had never seen them play.

A couple of films of Peru's previous matches were forced to serve as a late substitute. At a press conference after the defeat, MacLeod was approached by a mongrel dog and said: "I think he is the only friend I have got left."

To add to the team's woes, the winger Willie Johnston tested positive for drugs after the Peru game – even though he insisted he only took two hayfever pills – and was sent home in disgrace. However, Mr Carless warned that at least one Argentine lawyer wanted to start extradition proceedings so that the player could be brought back from the UK to stand trial on criminal charges with a possible three-year jail sentence.

He explained: "Both Fifa and the Argentine Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA] agree that this further publicity is undesirable but the MFA claim that they have no grounds for interfering with the due processes of law."

Fortunately for Johnston and the Scots, the attempt came to nothing.

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Mr Carless was not the only one unimpressed by the Scottish performance. The files reveal that 12 fans were arrested for displaying a banner with "obscenities" about the Scottish Football Association.

'I was sacrificial lamb for SFA'

Willie Johnston Scotland player

ALLY MacLeod was making rash statements to the press and the nation was beginning to believe we could possibly win the World Cup. Did the players believe it? Not a chance. We knew we could do well – well enough to get through the group stages at least. Yet the hype kept building. The squad were only two games away from falling on their faces. My face, of course, would have more mud on it than any of the others.

The game against Peru turned out to be my worst ever performance for my country – yet we still could have won the match. Don Masson had the opportunity to slot a penalty home to put us 2-1 up. He missed and the Peruvians became rejuvenated and went on to destroy us.

When I learned I had tested positive (a random drug test after the match revealed traces of a banned stimulant that had been present in two tablets he had taken for hayfever] my legs turned to jelly. I felt weak and sick. Various thoughts went through my head. How would my family react to the news? Was my playing career over? But one thought kept returning more than most: had I been set up?

I have been asked many times about those two (hayfever] pills. Did I take them to enhance my play? Never! I was playing the best football of my career and I needed no artificial stimulants.

Being bundled into a car like a criminal and thrown out the country at gunpoint was more than terrifying. I now feel certain that the SFA had treated me as a sacrificial lamb. I would take all the heat and disappointment.

• Sent Off At Gunpoint: The Willie Johnston Story is published by Know the Score!, priced 17.99.


KEY figures in the blame game:

• Ernie Walker, secretary of the SFA: Sourced the hotel and training facilities that the team would use. He described the hotel as "an Argentina Gleneagles", but the rooms were uncarpeted and the swimming pool had no water.

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• Ally MacLeod, manager: In an act of hubris, he convinced the nation Scotland would win the World Cup, yet he neglected to properly study his first-round opponents, Peru and Iran.

• Lou Macari: The Manchester United player complained about the bonuses the players would receive upon winning the World Cup, then made extra money by selling stories to the press about the disarray and tensions within the Scottish camp.

'Nobody cared about the Scots'

Andrew Leslie, Tartan Army

I BRIEFLY worked in the Foreign Office, and so it's ironic that the SFA should now be accused of "provincialism", as the Foreign Office simply viewed the English team as their sole interest.

I wonder if the charg d'affaires in Buenos Aires offered to provide the SFA with any advice on the country ahead of the World Cup?

In saying that, we know the SFA was capable of amateurism in the past.

Before the World Cup there were a number of competitions to win tickets, and I had won mine with Scottish & Newcastle Brewery.

Archie Macpherson presented us with the tickets at the Pond Hotel in Glasgow. We were flown over and put up in a five-star hotel in Crdoba – to be honest it felt like a three-star – and given a decent sum of spending money.

What people don't appreciate is that in Argentina nobody cared about the Scots. The games weren't broadcast on TV and all the match reports were in Spanish, so we couldn't keep up with what was going on.

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We didn't really know about the Willie Johnston affair. We did call in once to the Jockey Club, which was used as a press centre, and there we met Lou Macari. I remember asking him about the training camp, and he said: "It's a dump."

That seemed to be typical of the SFA – they book things without checking it out. The same thing happened with the Peru game – they just weren't prepared. We knew about Peru, but Ally MacLeod didn't.

We couldn't believe it when Scotland lost. The deflation was terrible.

Then against Iran we watched as Kenny Dalglish was taken off and Joe Harper put on, but MacLeod was a maverick.

He would agree the team with his assistant manager, John Hagart, the night before and then change it the next day without telling anyone.

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